I certainly am not the first pundit to observe this trend, but I think it’s very relevant to photographers. When the world was dominated by newspaper and magazines, photography and photographers had a very solid footing. The outlets for photography were limited, but the circulation was enormous. Rights-Managed usage made a lot of sense, and photographers could be economically successful without necessarily being very business savvy. They didn’t have to worry about distribution to multiple media because print was it.
But the Information Age changed the game dramatically because of a few factors:
- Information dissemination became trivial
- Technology became so cheap that laymen could afford it
- Technological tools became easy enough that laymen would use it
These factors led to the rise of the Internet, iPods, cellphones, PDA and many other technological devices that permeate western culture today. These technologies have also shifted the way that we interact with content in significant ways.
Chris Anderson astutely notes in The Long Tail that these developments translate into much more choice for end users. The days of the mega pop star are over because we can now find niche music to suit our tastes exactly, rather than just being limited to artists that bricks and mortar retailers and radio stations promote.
The same is true for images. The rise of cheap digital cameras has led to a democratization effect. Even hobbyists can create professional quality images now because cameras are cheap, there are no film processing costs, and tools like Photoshop have allowed millions of people to create non-destructive edits to images.
The diversity of content creators means that we no longer have to be content with agency collections of 25 million images when we can potentially access hundreds of millions of images.
Is there demand for these images? We believe there is. The best of the best will continue to sell images at a high dollar through traditional outlets, but the majority of photographers will have to learn to diversify their thinking about what constitutes licensing. This is because the destinations for images will become much more diffuse.
You might not sell $250 stock images to magazines anymore, but you might sell 100 cellphone downloads at $1/piece, a web usage, and a thumbnail inside of Second Life. I’m not promising that this new math will allow photographers to make equivalent money, it’s simply an observation that the dynamics of both creation and delivery are changing significantly before our eyes.
We also believe that the old economics of agency stock sales will change dramatically. The large stock agencies are pursuing wholesale acquisition of content because paying photographer royalties is expensive. PhotoShelter takes the opposite approach. We don’t own anything. We allow you to collect the proceeds of a sale. It’s impossible to tell which model will ultimately succeed, but we believe empowering the content creator will have positive effects in the long term for both buyer and seller.
What do you think?